Behind the Scenes of Working on Johnson’s Dictionary

by Annalea Flores

Over the course of the Spring 2023 semester, I had the chance to work on Samuel Johnson’s dictionary. There was much that I learned, not only about the dictionary and the English language but also about myself and my skills.

Who is Johnson? I’ll Do You One Better: Why is Johnson?

If somebody had asked me who Samuel Johnson was before this class, I wouldn’t have had an answer. Despite all of my academics into the English language via linguistic minors or literature classes, I had never heard of this man in my entire life. I’ve learned quite a bit about now including that Samuel Johnson worked on various jobs including publishing a few poems before being approached by a group of booksellers to create a compilation of the English language in the form of a dictionary. And then after nine long years, Johnson finally created the dictionary which proved to be important for the English language as well as to language critics. His dictionary was the first English dictionary that used quotations from admired writers to show the different senses and ways a word was used. It influenced the dictionaries that came after and led to the recognition that language is ever changing and cannot be simply shaped and formed into rigid rules and shapes.

Anxiety: Haunting the Contributors

I won’t lie, there were days or weeks where I felt that I didn’t do too much to assist the dictionary because of my other classes as well as just life in general. Just like most of my fellow classmates doing this project, I started the first two weeks by proofreading. Thinking back on it now, I can’t believe that I thought proofreading 80 dictionary words was a lot! Dr. Young gave us a crash course on XML and sent my classmates and I out to complete our first XML tasks of many. Those first few weeks of XML editing were strange because most of the time I was a little afraid to change anything if something was wrong. However, I noticed that I grew in strength while doing this. I became more confident in my editing and proofreading abilities, even if I was still learning how to edit XML. I actually learned how to do more than just the basics! There were multiple times when titles didn’t have authors attached for readers to click on to learn more and I got tired of copying the XML code, so I just memorized it.

Aside from growing in my proofreading skills, I also noticed a lot of mistakes and discrepancies within the 1755 version. The first week I worked on XML editing and flipped through both versions to check not only my work, but specifics within the quotes such as people and places, I couldn’t help but notice and mark mistakes when I saw them. Every week up until week 9, I pointed out any and all mistakes I saw in the 1755 version while also fixing the 1773 version. That’s why I ended up working on the small 1755 team to find and correct those few mistakes. During my time from weeks 9 through 14, I noticed that there were a lot of mistakes within the 1755 version that hadn’t been marked. For example, when I had started working on the W words, no mistakes were marked in our spreadsheets for the 1755 version, but I still went through each and every word as if had been flagged. By doing so, I was able to catch mistakes in punctuation, spelling, etymology, and numbering of senses that were present but not marked.

As I got closer to the end of the semester, I started getting anxious again that maybe I wasn’t fixing things properly or not doing enough. There was a week that I had missed and needed to make up and I spent one night working on that week and the following week. Even then, I was anxious that I wasn’t doing enough especially because I had fallen behind. However, I finished every task given to me and even went beyond to make sure that the online dictionary could be better and more accurate. I worked on 934 words in the 1773 version and 1,098 in the 1755 version for a grand total of 2,032 words during the past 12 weeks. I didn’t realize how much I had actually done until this reflection when I went back and counted all of the things I did. I hope that all the work that I had done on both the 1773 version and the 1755 version has helped a lot. My work on checking both versions has benefited future workers on this project to then benefit future scholars who plan to use this dictionary.

The Reflection of Self

At first, I truly didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I squeezed myself into the class attached to the dictionary project. I was absolutely unaware that the class and this project were connected so I had a lot of hurdles to jump over. After the past 14 weeks, I would definitely say that working on the dictionary has helped me develop a lot of skills that are necessary not only in the editorial industry, but also as a person. I learned an entirely new skill in XML that makes me want to go on and continue to learn how to use it in order to make my own website or help people fix what shows on their websites.

I learned a lot of what I am actually capable of this semester. If you had asked me if I would look over Johnson’s definition of draw last year, I probably would have been curious and then forgot to look it up. I definitely learned that I could multitask between a word in the dictionary, the XML editing page, and also image lookup. I also learned to just trust myself. I had a lot of doubts on if I was doing things correctly or being afraid to touch certain things, but I really did learn how to trust myself and double check it. Besides this, I also learned that my proofreading and grammar skills are better than I thought.

Essentially, I learned how to be more confident in my abilities and strengthened my skills in the process. To me, this is the best possible outcome for my last semester at UCF. As I’ve gotten closer to graduating, I’ve been less and less confident in my skills as I’ve constantly gotten rejected from internships. Working on this has helped me tremendously and I look forward to putting this wonderful experience on my resume.